Sony Vegas Tips & Tricks: Correcting Exposure Problems
Posted Jan 1, 2009

Welcome to this month’s tutorial on Sony Vegas! In this installment I will extend the discussion of color correction techniques we began in the November issue with a look at using some of the new color-enhancing filters that come with Vegas Pro 8 to solve a real-world problem of exposure.

As I mentioned in the November tutorial, you will want to be using a broadcast monitor or correctly calibrated CRT-type TV set for external monitoring.

In addition, Vegas offers some monitoring tools of its own, which we’ll get to in a minute.

Step 1: Drag a Clip to the Timeline
To begin, drag a clip to the timeline.

I’ve chosen a keyboard player under stage lights, and I suspect he’s a little underexposed, as shown in Figure 1 (below).

Sony Vegas Pro 8

Step 2: Assess the Damage in the Video Scopes Tool
To get a closer look at the exposure issues with the shot, choose View - Video Scopes to open the Video Scopes tool. Once the tool is opened, choose Waveform and Luminance (Figure 2, below).

Sony Vegas Pro 8

Step 3: Open the Levels Filter
Next, we’re going to use the Sony Levels filter (Figure 3, below, right) to adjust the image of our keyboard player. To open it, click Event FX on the event on the Vegas timeline (Figure 3, below, left) and choose Sony Levels.

Sony Vegas Pro 8

Step 4: Check Image Highlights in the Waveform Tool
While there are several filters included with Vegas that can alter the bright and dark elements of a clip, Levels works particularly well when monitoring with the Waveform tool. You want the brights of the image (the highlights) to go no higher than 100% and the darks of the image to go no lower than 0. This particular image of our keyboard player is inherently dark, so there is no way it’s going to get near 100% luminance.

But we want it to be a little better than it is. As is, the image’s highlights are around 35%–45% (Figure 4, below).

Sony Vegas Pro 8

Step 5: Increase Luminance With the Input End Slider
By moving the Input End slider to the left, we can increase the luminance of the image. As always, adjust as little as is needed. Too much adjustment and you will introduce noise. The value we have here is at .700 and is about a 30% movement of the slider (Figure 5, below).

Sony Vegas Pro 8

Step 6: Check Highlights Again
Notice that the highlights now are at around 60%–80%, and our keyboard player is much brighter (Figure 6, below).

Sony Vegas Pro 8

You will also want to play around with the presets to get a feel for what they do. As with presets in all filters and fx, they can be a great starting point.

Step 7: A Few More Notes on Exposure and Color Correction
Note that when selecting effects or filters to apply to your clip, you might be inclined to use the Brightness and Contrast filter. I never use this filter because it affects too much of the image. This filter is like a simple “tone” control that turns clockwise for treble and counterclockwise for bass. The Color Curves, Levels, and other color grading filters are more like a graphic or parametric equalizer, giving you much more control.

If your footage is overexposed or too blown out, that is a different problem. Once footage is truly blown out, then detail is lost and you can’t get it back. When shooting, it’s better to underexpose just a little than to risk true overexposure. (Test the limits of your camera; on our older VX-2000, I can be in the zebras at 100% and still pull out some detail, but we have not been so lucky with newer HDV cams.)

So what to do if your footage is too overexposed to correct in post? Make lemonade with your lemons! Use Sony Glow, Sony Black and White, or Sony Sepia to give the footage a “look,” as shown in Figure 7 (below). As with many effects, use these sparingly.

Sony Vegas Pro 8

Remember that Color Correction is not a point-and-click plug-in with presets. It is a collection of tools, workflows, ideas, and solutions. No single filter can solve all problems. As I did last time, I’ll refer you to the Glenn Chan and Douglas Spotted Eagle’s very in-depth Vegas Color Correction DVD, available from If you would like to see the .veg file and the clip I used in this tutorial, just email me at david [at] I’ll be happy to provide them.

David McKnight (david at is half of McKnight Video, a Houston-based wedding video studio. He is vice president of the Houston Professional Videographers Association (HPVA), has Sony Vegas and HDV certification, is the technical editor of Vegas Pro 8 Editing Workshop (Focal Press), and is a contributor to TheFullHD Book (VASST). He and his wife, Christie, are winners of multiple HPVA awards.